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Loving v. Virginia was a landmark Supreme Court Case that allowed interracial marriage in the United States under the protection of the Fourteenth Amendment. It sought to challenge state-level anti-miscegenation laws and potentially other statures that sought to discriminate based on race. As a landmark court case, Loving v Virginia was critical for the Civil Rights Movement in establishing the legitimacy of equal rights for all citizens in social practices and institutions.
In 1958, Mildred Dolores Loving and Richard Loving decided to marry after finding out they were going to be parents. Mildred was of a mixed African American and Rappahannock Indian heritage while Richard was a white man. Under the Virginia code 20-54 law, interracial marriage was forbidden. It was known as the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 that sought to prevent marriage between whites (Caucasian) and any other race. Therefore, the couple went to Washington D.C. to make their union legal and returned to live in central Virginia. However, by doing so, the couple violated code 20-58 which prevented interracial marriage out of state and return with the intent to cohabit as husband and wife. Several weeks later, after an anonymous tip, the police raided their home in the early hours of the morning. The couple was forced to admit their marriage, and despite a valid marriage certificate, they violated the state law. Both plead guilty to felony charges and were indicted by a grand jury in Carolina County Circuit Court, sentenced to one year in prison. The sentence was suspended under the condition that the couple would leave Virginia and not return together. Subsequently, the Lovings left their home for the District of Columbia (Hoewe 1).
Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Mildred Loving wrote to U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy which directed her to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU decided to support the case and lawyers Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop initiated the procedure of appeal. Since the couple pled guilty, the judge refused the appeal which led the case to be taken to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. The Lovings violated the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924 which was based on centuries of anti-miscegenation laws and paved the way for various discriminatory state laws. Historians believe that it was a primitive legal mechanism of eugenics since many sincerely believed that racial intermixing would result in Caucasians being debilitated by “inferior” traits (Taylor 7). It was a political move under the cover of pseudoscience to justify racism.
According to Loving v. Commonwealth, the Supreme Court of Virginia supported the original ruling and its Constitutional integrity. The sentence was modified to allow the couple into the state as long as they did not cohabit. Loving’s attorneys argued that the state laws violate the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause which prohibited any state from denying the rights that are guaranteed to all citizens under the U.S. Constitution. However, the state ruled that was not the case as both Richard and Mildred were equally punished and their sentence was not discriminatory based on race. The state relied upon a 1955 case Naim v. Naim to support that the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 used racial classification for state purposes of preserving racial integrity. Also, the judge cited the Federal Supreme Court case of Pace v. Alabama which supported anti-miscegenation laws in 1883, which led to more than half the states enforcing such legislation with only one successful case of appeal. Therefore, the state chose to uphold previous convictions, and the case was returned to the local circuit court. The ACLU chose to pursue the Loving case as an avenue for Civil Rights and filed a class-action suit to the United States Supreme Court.
Constitutional Question and Arguments
The Supreme Court Case Loving v. Virginia was heard and ruled upon in 1967. The constitutional question under investigation was whether Virginia’s statutory scheme preventing marriage based on racial classification was a violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Loving’s attorneys presented arguments for this. Hirschkop argued that the state statures not only made interracial marriage illegal but put the couple under arrest for fornication and a cohabitation statute. The whole family would lose various social rights such as insurance and social security which are fundamental civil rights. The Virginia stature has a long history which is based on slavery and racism. The bill for Racial Integrity of 1924 was initially aimed towards the preservation of the integrity of Caucasians, preventing only marriage between whites and other races but disregarding any other interracial unions which is discriminatory.
Meanwhile, Mr. Cohen argued that the Due Process Clause is protected under the Fourteenth Amendment by protection from state infringement on the right to marry. Although the state may have some level of control such as preventing marriage between close relatives, there must be a reasonable basis for this which the Virginia legislation does not by discriminating solely on race. The Assistant Attorney General R. D. McIlwaine III presented the counterargument that the Fourteenth Amendment does not prevent the implementation of anti-miscegenation laws and should not infringe on state rights. Also, the statute is a rational decision made to prevent sociological “evils.” The question of whether the amendment applies to marriage was already examined during the Pave v. Alabama case and ruled in favor of the state (“Excerpts from a Transcript of Oral Arguments in Loving v. Virginia”).
Voting and Legal Doctrine
According to Loving v. Virginia, the vote was unanimous (9-0) in favor of the plaintiff which reversed their criminal convictions and made their marriage legal everywhere in the United States. Chief Justice Earl Warren presented the court findings stating that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The equal application of punishments for the stature and its supposed purpose of the state did not make it appropriate under the Equal Protection Clause. The statue was found to have no objective other than discrimination based on a racial classification which the Fourteenth Amendment seeks to eliminate. Also, marriage was ruled as a basic civil right of citizens. Therefore, laws preventing entrance into union due to racial classifications directly violate the due process of law by depriving citizens of fundamental liberties. Associate Justice Potter Steward released a concurring statement supporting the court’s decision and stating his previous position that any state stature supporting criminality based on race is inherently illegal under the U.S. Constitution.
The Supreme Court decision on this case made any state laws preventing or criminalizing interracial marriage illegal and unenforceable under the Fourteenth Amendment. It drastically shifted the legal and social landscape of Civil Rights and the marriage institution. Interracial couples, no matter their ethnicity, could gain the social privileges of marriages without sanctions from the state. Scholars support that this decision helped bring more cohesiveness and understanding amongst races, as the number of interracial marriages continued to grow after the decision (Roberts 203). As part of the Civil Rights movement, it helped to disrupt another mechanism of control that individual groups attempted to use to support its racist agenda and legislation from the Jim Crow era. Based on Loving v. Virginia, any state legislation which seeks to classify based on race would be declared unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.
“Excerpts from a Transcript of Oral Arguments in Loving v. Virginia” Encyclopedia of Virginia. 2014, Web.
Hoewe, Jennifer. Loving v. Virginia, 2015. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism, Web.
Loving v. Commonwealth, 206 Va. 924 (1966). Supreme Court of Virginia, Web.
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). Supreme Court of the United States, Web.
Martin, Douglas. “Mildred Loving, Who Battled Ban on Mixed-Race Marriage, Dies at 68.” New York Times. 2008, Web.
Taylor, Marshall. Brief of Amici Curiae NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. and National Association For The Advancement of Colored People In Support Of Petitioners. 2015, Web.
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Roberts, Dorothy. “Loving v. Virginia as a Civil Rights Deicision.” New York Law School Law Review, vol. 59, no. 1, 2015, pp. 175-209, Web.